“Nothing in life is free.” Lakeyshia Crummel ’06 often heard this phrase from her single mother who worked three jobs to keep the family going.
“One thing I never heard from my mom is that it’s OK to ask for help.” Crummel learned that lesson firsthand and today offers assistance to those who need it through her role as director of development at Brethren Housing Authority (BHA) in Harrisburg.
It’s been fifteen years since she was first introduced to BHA, but from a much different perspective. While attending John Harris High School, she had her first son at the end of her sophomore year. The father didn’t want responsibility for the child, and she essentially was homeless, living in a unit without electricity or running water. Her closest friends had no idea, and she didn’t want grief from her mother.
“I didn’t want to hear from my mom, ‘I told you so,’” she said. “It came to the point where I had to ask for help.”
Crummel attended a Teen Parenting Program at Harris and made the connection with BHA. After an intense interview process, she was accepted into their transitions program for homeless women and children. Offered to mothers with underage children who are 200 percent below the poverty level, the program provides up to twentyfour months of housing, case management services, classes on budgeting and job training, support groups, therapy, and more.
“The goal is to take a holistic approach, to hold your hand and walk with you through the journey,” she said.
“My case manager said she saw a little flicker in me during the interview. For the first time, I was hearing, ‘I believe in you, you can get through this.’”
Crummel got a job at a grocery store and worked through her last two years of high school. With her sights set on a college degree and a better life, her case manager steered her toward Shippensburg University. Crummel said the case manager was a Ship alum and told her that the university would offer another strong support system. The case manager proved to be right.
That summer, Crummel moved from Harrisburg to Shippensburg and started the ACT 101 program prior to the academic year. There, she met Dr. Samuel Benbow, currently associate professor in social work and gerontology, with whom she credits for getting her on track in college.
“He was my biggest support system,” she said. “He suggested I study business, and I focused on information management systems analysis.”
While at Ship, Crummel lived off campus with her now husband, Aaron, and they had a second child. The family frequented campus activities and the kids flourished with the attention and acceptance they received. Her growing family only further motivated her to hit the books. “My mindset was, I’m here to get a degree.”
During her senior year, she had an on-campus interview with Nationwide Insurance for an underwriter position. Although the competition was tight, she landed the job and moved back to Harrisburg. For the next nine years, she said, “I worked hard and got as high as I could. I tried for management, but God had different plans for me.”
In 2012, Crummel reconnected with BHA when they came to her Nationwide office for a lunch and learn program. She told them her story and slowly started getting more involved through donations and events. She often attended workshops to speak about her experience or to provide advice on faith, employment, and finances.
Finally, it clicked.
“I felt like this was God saying, ‘Things weren’t working out at Nationwide because of this. This is what you’re supposed to do.”
An opportunity at BHA opened up in 2015, and Crummel officially became the director of development. In this role, she’s able to network, brainstorm and implement fundraisers, educate the community about the purpose of BHA, and help others.
Although the organization has existed since 1989, many people still aren’t familiar with its mission. Through development and fundraising, Crummel works to explain BHA’s goals and educate people about homelessness.
“The number one thing I want them to know is that homelessness can happen to anybody. You might work with someone who is homeless,” she said. BHA doesn’t just address homelessness; the staff addresses the root of the problem. Dealing with self-awareness and trauma—in addition to offering practical workshops and support groups—helps the people they serve improve their situation.
“Our goal is to grow our support base and educate at the same time. …Everyone who walks through that door has a different story.”
Today, Crummel and her husband have four kids, the oldest of which plans to attend Ship this coming year for software engineering. She’s earned her master’s degree, is working a challenging job that she loves, and is giving back through the organization that provided her with so much. She won’t forget where she came from, and often reminds her kids of the family’s early struggles.
“They see that mom did it. I could’ve been a statistic,” she said. “But now when I share my story, I see the blessings in all of it. I have a positive outlook and so much faith.”